by Kristin Hartman, Policy officer, Citizens Advice Scotland.
NB This article was first published in the Sunday Herald on 22 July 2018.
Postal services and broadband are important to most of us in our daily lives, but if you are a small business they are absolutely vital. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) need both internet access and a decent postal service so they can reach markets, advertise their goods and services, communicate with their customers, and deliver their products. These businesses are essential to a healthy, thriving economy, and their success means more jobs, better wages, and more investment in services that benefit all of us.
This week Citizens Advice Scotland published research highlighting a number of areas where improvements are needed to ensure that businesses can maximise their full potential.
We found that postal services are indispensable to Scottish SMEs, with 72% describing the Post Office as very or fairly important to their business. This is particularly true for those in rural areas, who often depend on the Post Office for banking and financial services as well as deliveries. With the on-going closure of bank branches across Scotland this will become even more important in the future, making it vital that the Post Office network is maintained across Scotland.
We have written in this column before about the high cost of parcel delivery charges for Scottish consumers, and our new research highlights the issue is huge for business as well. One in four SMEs reported being asked to pay an additional delivery surcharge due to their location and almost half of those who have experienced this problem said it happens regularly. One in five also reported delivery delays due to their location. Businesses need reliable and affordable delivery systems to operate competitively, so we will continue to work with ministers and delivery companies to find solutions to this problem. Location should not be a detriment to successful business activity.
But postal services were not the only challenge that our research identified. There is also digital connectivity. One third of SMEs told us that broadband in their area is variable or poor, and this rises to 45% for those based in remote rural areas. We know that geography and population distribution in Scotland have been used in the past as explanations for poor broadband service, but in 2018 these excuses seem increasingly outdated. It is past time that good quality broadband was available for everyone in Scotland, regardless of location.
There is no doubt that Scottish businesses are disadvantaged by limited access to reliable broadband, location-based delivery surcharges and delayed deliveries. This is a real consumer detriment that affects the ability of our economy to operate effectively, particularly in rural areas.
We would look to both the UK and Scottish governments to use the powers and influence they have to address this important issue. We will continue to engage with both to solve these problems for businesses and consumers